When Separation Anxiety Becomes a Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder

Saying goodbye is never easy, and sometimes it can be quite hard—even if you know your loved one will be returning. Some degree of separation anxiety may be normal, especially in children. But when do you know if it’s extreme enough that it is a disorder? First, let’s talk about what separation anxiety means.

Separation anxiety in children

Separation anxiety in its basic form is fear or sadness that comes when someone you love is temporarily leaving where you are. Separation anxiety in children usually happens when a very young baby cries a lot because of being separated from his or her mother.


Separation anxiety in children is very normal, especially during the baby stage and even in a young child up to age 4, according to psychologists. Many children are sad or fearful when their parents leave them, though the feeling usually goes away after a time, and they typically grow out of those worries. Reassuring children and showing them you will return usually helps.

Separation anxiety in adults

There can be separation anxiety in adult relationships as well. When romantic partners are separated for several days, typically emotional stress begins to develop. Married couples tend to have trouble sleeping away from each other, for example, and couples will look forward to talking, texting, Skyping, or other means of communication until they are reunited.


This type of separation anxiety is also normal, say psychologists, as most people who love each other wish to have them close by and come to depend on them in their daily lives. Typically this type of separation anxiety lessens the more business trips, for example, occur, and couples become more used to being away from each other; though there is usually some type of stress or anxiety that accompanies a significant other’s absence.

What should be done?

When separation anxiety becomes a disorder depends on the timing and the intensity. If separation anxiety occurs when anticipating a loved one will be gone just a few minutes, then that could be a warning sign that the anxiety has reached a higher level. Gauging the level of intensity is important, as those who have a disorder have much higher levels of anxiety over separation. Also, if the anxiety doesn’t go away when the loved one returns, then it is likely that the separation anxiety is now a disorder. If the anxiety of separation starts to inject itself into everyday life and affect daily thoughts and decisions, it’s definitely time to talk to a doctor.